Getting Your Patients to Value Your Appointment Time

One of the most obvious signs of a successful dental practice is a full schedule of patient appointments. That said, the more appointments you have, the harder it can become to run through the day smoothly and in a timely manner, particularly if your practice seems to have more than its fair share of tardy patients. How can you keep things organized so that late arrivals don’t create a domino effect of tardiness in your schedule? How can you ensure that patients show up for their appointments or don’t cancel at the last minute?

The most expensive thing in a dental office is an empty chair. To prevent tardy or canceled appointments as much as possible, verbalize your appointment cancellation policy as a benefit statement when handing the patients their appointment card. It would sound like this:  “We understand patients have changes in their schedule. In order to avoid a cancellation fee, we kindly request 48 hours advance notice if you cant make your appointment.”  Rehearse this. I suggest making this statement as the appointment card is being given to the patient.

Should a patient call to cancel, verbiage is important on this call as well.  “Thank you for the courtesy of calling us.  When an appointment is cancelled with less than 48 hours notice I am concerned because there is an appointment cancellation fee.”  Then PAUSE.  If this is a first-time occurence, make an exception and let the patient know you will waive the fee as a courtesy.  Taking these two steps will let patients know that keeping their appointments is part of your office protocol. A cancelled appointment fee is not meant to be charged or collected, it is simply a way to assign value to your time and deter last minute cancellations.

Lastly, when a patient reschedules be cautious of giving them an appointment the next day, even if you have an open slot.  Creating consequences such as a wait for the next appointment or a less convenient time will discourage any future cancellations.

Verbal skills are the key to controlling any of your systems.  You can get your patients to collaborate with you by using the proper verbiage with an empathetic tone of voice.  For more verbal skills on appointment control click here.

An important aspect of controlling the appointment schedule is to avoid asking questions like:

  • “When would you like to come in?”
  • “Would you prefer to schedule in the morning or afternoon?”
  • “Do you want to reschedule?”
  • “When will it be convenient for you to come back?”
  • “I imagine Fridays are best for you?”

When these kind of questions are asked the patient is under the impression that they dictate the time and flow of your schedule. Team members must take control of the structure of your day by recognizing these 3 things:

  1. The priority of the appointment coordinator is to productively schedule TODAY and TOMORROW.  Having an empty schedule in the upcoming days, but a full one next week shows a lack of organization. The best way to gain control is to offer a benefit to the patient plus 2 choices.
  2. Make it a rule that every patient leaves with an appointment card for their next visit.

Verbal skills to use:

“To ensure that you are able to eat lunch comfortably, we saved time in the morning for your procedure. Will Tuesday at 8:30 or Wednesday at 10:00 be best for you?”

“So that we are able to save the time of day you like for your six-month hygiene visit, let’s go ahead and make that appointment today. Would October 15 at 10:00 or October 17 at 9:00 be best?”

“We will file a pre-determination for you and make sure we call you before your appointment to inform you of your estimated portion.  Let’s get you on the schedule for several weeks from now. Would May 14 at 8:30 or May 16 at 11:00 be best?”


Laura has worked in dentistry since 1981. She has worked in dental offices, worked for a prestigious management consulting firm, Pride Institute, and owned and operated her own business, Jamison Consulting since 1992. A member of ADMC since 2004, Laura was elected Vice President/President-Elect in 2016 and will serve as President of ADMC until 2020. Laura joined Henry Schein as a 360 Practice Development Coach in February 2018 and is thrilled to be serving dentists in Ohio.